Rimrock Hot Club Billings musicians debut Gypsy Jazz group

Music and arts culture in Billings continues to thrive, and Arthouse Cinema and Pub has created another space for live music. The independent theater in downtown has opened its doors to a variety of community events on Mondays and Tuesdays (days when movies are not showing).

Rimrock Hot Club, in an intimate seating of 100 or so patrons, sold out two shows back-to-back featuring this fast-swinging, otherworldly style of music. The newly formed ensemble drew from the great tradition of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli as well as modern influences.

Tippet Rise Performing Arts Center takes shape near Fishtail

Montana’s majesty is a moving experience. The vastness of this state captivates audiences with prairie vistas and grand mountains upheaved from the earth. Nature’s organic brushstroke has created scenes of vastness and unconquerable beauty, earning the state its title of “Last Best Place.”

The mountains of south central Montana and their immense presence struck philanthropists and artists, Cathy and Peter Halstead. In this majestic surrounding, Cathy (an artist), and Peter (a photographer, pianist, and poet), found a home for their vision: a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing music, sculpture, and nature together.

“There is nothing like this confluence of art, architecture, music and landscape. It’s unprecedented,” said Christopher O’Riley, musical director of Tippet Rise. “There is nothing like it.”

Tippet Rise came from the Halsteads desire to combine their love of landscape with their extensive philanthropic work in the arts. Located one mile west of Fishtail on a working ranch, this arts center honors the landscape of Montana while enhancing these vistas to create something otherworldly. Across the 11,500 acre working ranch—where one will find sheep and cattle grazing the land—sculptures and performance venues dot the landscape.

Monuments to the untamed mountains, these creations by internationally known artists and architects link nature with architecture, art, and music. Abstract expressionist sculptor Mark di Suvero’s “Beethoven’s Quartet” sits tall on a vista. One of two di Suveros on the property, the suspended, melodic sculpture (rubber mallets are provided so visitors and chime the structure) is almost as surreal as the panoramic views of the Beartooths and the Crazies. In homage to the mountains, Spain’s Ensamble Studio erected two sculptures (“Beartooth Portal” and “Inverted”) that feel unearthed from the seafloor: huge concrete structures teetering on the rolling plains. Appearing monolithic and unearthed in nature, these monuments to the untamed space of country span time. Tucked in the lowlands of the property, nomadic-looking architectural structures by NYC artist Stephen Talasnik frame the landscape. Down in the river valley of the property, twisting willow branches harvested from the area overtake dreamscape artist Patrick Dougherty’s replica frontier-period schoolhouse, aptly named “Daydreams.”

Three performance spaces also occupy the land. Domo, reaching nearly 100 feet long and 16 feet high, is a monolithic feat of concrete and engineering. Designed to appear as though it is hovering on the land, this structure is acoustically matched to the outdoor space and will be host to many of the organization’s live concerts. Created especially for Tippet Rise, Domo is one of three structures co-created by Antón García-Abril and Débora Mesa, principals of Ensamble Studio. The music of García-Abril’s father, a well-known musical composer, will be performed this summer at Domo, bringing together the father and son’s work in a serendipitous way.

Tiara Acoustic Shell, designed for up to 100 audience members, acts like a band shell without walls. This wooden, moveable structure reflects sound from the corners, swirling it above the listener’s head.

The Olivier Barn, a third and main performance space, has been named one of the eight structures in the world to look out for in 2016 by architectural critic Jonathan Glancey for the BBC. Unassuming, the structure appears from the exterior to be a simple barn, organically nestled in the property’s valley. Alongside it runs a small stream lined with aspens, cottonwoods, and waving grasses.

More in June’s Yellowstone Valley Magazine >>>

Terpsichore’s Turn of Phrase Dance Company of Montana gracefully nails 2016 performance

Terpsichore Dance Company of Montana is made of grit and iron,of passing bodies and bare feet, of chills and electricity, of heartbeats, tears and of tributes.

This amazing collective of dancers perform just once a year, a show that takes more than six months to prepare. Founder and main choreographer Ricki Feeley estimated Terpsichore’s annual show, which took place March 5 at the Babcock Theatre, was a culmination of more than 700 hours of rehearsal time.

The enormity of scale that these dancers undertake is phenomenal. In each dance phrase, they encapsulate grace with backbone. They are resolute in their movements, a feeling I was hardly able to capture in photo, but none-the-less, here are some images from the performance.

For more on Terpsichore and their process, check out my interview with Feeley: Trust on Display

The Stories of Lula Washington Company brings repertoire of modern dance to Billings

Our bodies tell many stories. Stories of heritage, of pride and of culture. Of enthusiasm and exuberance, anguish and remorse. Our bodies shelter our love and hold our loss. We are etched with scars from violence, abuse, addiction. We are pyramids of redemption and choice.

We all have our stories to tell. Lula Washington tells hers through dance. Founder, creative director, and main choreographer of the Lula Washington Dance Theatre, Washington spoke to me prior to the company’s appearance in Billings.

“The works I create… are a part of who I am and where I come from.” When she was first exposed to modern dance, she knew. This would be her life’s work.  Read the full interview here >>>

Dance performances by Lula Washington Dance Theatre were at times jolting, at others so vivacious it seemed strange that we were not leaping to our feet (ahhh, the reservations of polite audiences in theater seats). I left feeling like I’d been witness to the most private moments in someone’s life.

The Art of Masquerade YAM shows its wild side at masked fundraiser

Yellowstone Art Museum’s first Masquerade Ball successfully packed the museum with more than 400 party-goers. Attendees at the sold-out fundraising bash took to the theme in grand style, clad in anything from ball gowns to ghoulish face paint to one attendee in a towel and mud facial mask.

Billings AlternaCirque hung from the rafters of the museum, performing aerial acts and serving as bartenders while DJ Benefit kept an energetic vibe. Though lines were long, event attendees who stuck to it had tarot card readings and were taken on a ghost tour of the museum.

Numbers aren’t in for the total amount raised just yet, but ticket price math seems to equal a success. What may have seemed like an outlandish event for the historically conservative museum showed a wilder side to nonprofit fundraising, hopefully smashing the idea that raising funds is best left to auctioneers and black-tie attire.

The Chrysalis Metamorphosis of the Billings Artwalk, in one live art installation

The Billings Artwalk has never been so vibrant. With nearly 40 galleries to explore, each with a plate of art that continues to change, Artwalk is no longer a strolling affair. It’s a marathon.

Autumn’s annual Artwalk, held this year on Oct. 2, is rich with new works. Art seemingly busts from its creators this time of year, a symptom of the falling leaves, or perhaps remainders of summer’s playful imprint.

To name just a few (as my art marathon was focused on a few specific artists), art enthusiasts could enjoy Louis Habeck’s molded vignettes of skin samples at the Good Earth Market—the muddled wrinkled segments painted in creatively unrealistic ways set amongst Emily Davidson’s wickedly playful and lucid paintings of creatures in aquatic tones. Cartoonist Jason Jam’s devilish monsters in pencil were crawling off the walls of the Carlin Building, while his wife Wendy’s mandalas gave a more grounding vibe. Next door Connie Dillon’s three-dimensional paintings with miniature scenes were so rich and tempting, you could almost leap into them. At Del Alma Gallery, Kevin Rose’s calming scapes of abstract impressionism made me want to curl up and sip IPAs all night and just stare at the rolling monochromatic textures. Across the street at Better To Gather was perhaps the most eccentric collection on this particular artwalk: a living art installation featuring human canvases.

Billings-based artists Michelle Dyk and April Dawn took on the subject of metamorphosis for the installation, titled “The Chrysalis.” The display, visible from the shop’s window facing Montana Avenue, featured four models treated as living canvases, their body art progressing inside as Artwalk took place.

Dyk concepted the installation to feature a surreal setting of aspen poles and a glowing chrysalis, set against a dark backdrop. Dyk’s models were painted in earth tones to resembled tree gods covered in moss with long branch-like fingers. One could imagine them crawling from the cocoon, their whimsical bodies just beginning to stretch out in the scene. Dawn painted two models with geometric patterns and donned them with floral headpieces. The two painted women, one who was nearly nine months pregnant, resembled Grecian goddesses rich with life, temptation, and fantasy.

Artwalkers strolled throughout the installation, interacting with the in-process and finished people, watching the art unfold. “There was a lot of traffic,” Dyk said. “People seemed to enjoy and be intrigued by the living art dynamic.”

Red Ants Pants Music Fest A captivating Montana backdrop draws record attendance at fifth annual event

If Montana summers had a soundtrack, surely they would sound like the quick-rolling thunderstorms of White Sulphur Springs—distant and brooding and followed by rainbows—capped with liquid blue skies, sparkling sunsets, and nights as thick as molasses, rich with shooting stars. With, of course, a live concert and raging dance party in a cow pasture.

More than 14,000 people descended on such a setting for the fifth Red Ants Pants Music Festival, a three-day event held annually in July just outside of White Sulphur Springs, population 970.

“It was definitely one for the books, and we could not have done it without the support of the White Sulphur Springs community,” said Sarah Calhoun, Red Ants Pants Music Festival founder and producer.

Holly Williams (of the Hank Williams family), during her Saturday afternoon performance, looked across the festival crowd while retelling her arrival in Montana. Her husband Chris Coleman (Kings of Leon), who played by her side, was so taken with the surroundings, Williams was worried he wouldn’t leave.

“Something’s resonating deep inside of me,” Williams said of Montana.

Across each day, artists, attendees, and staff gave off similar vibes, reverberating with the vast countryside and the curated musical experience that brought Canadian folk, Nashville blues, American roots music, Texas country, and more to the Montana landscape.

Ryan Bingham brought the RAPMF audience to a Saturday apex, creating such a stomping grounds that dust rose high above the dancing crowd into the pitch of Montana’s night, a melodious crown to the music of the past two days.

It was in this connectivity to place, the circling of chords in such beauty, that has made RAPMF a destination for artists and fans.

“Our measure of success is how well we can bring people together to connect with good folks, celebrate rural Montana and enjoy world-class music that transcends all divides,” said Kathy Weber, PR director for RAPMF. “By that standard, it was a huge success.”

With record attendance, event organizers hail this the most successful RAPMF to date, and by financial measure, the festival raised a significant chunk of money to empower the Red Ants Pants Foundation.

“The thousands of folks who supported this year’s Red Ants Pants Music Festival will have a lasting impact on Montana,” said Weber, “by funding grants for projects that promote women’s leadership, our working family farms and ranches and our rural communities via the Red Ants Pants Foundation.”


Sixth Annual Red Ants Pants Music Festival
July 28th – 31st, 2016

Montana Folk Fest Butte, America rolls up its musical sleeves

There’s richness to summer in Montana, a backyard of brilliant adventures and a well-cultivated love of music, connection, and place. Music thrives here, not only because of setting, but because it’s such a high. Live music in an outdoor setting gives us a jolt. It transfers energy through listeners and shrinks the distance between one another. The lines blur between crowd and stage.

The Granite Stage
The Original Stage

Nowhere is this more visible than Montana Folk Fest. In its fifth year (not including three years of residency of the National Folk Fest), the festival drew 170,000 attendees across three days of music, dance, art and cuisine. Organizers report the festival continues to grow, based on indicators of donations, food sales, parking patterns, aerial photos, and merch sold.

Downpours, thunderstorms, and even hail, didn’t dampen the fest. “The festival was a success on every point we use to measure it,” George Everett, Festival Director, said. “Attendance was strong with venues often filled to capacity. The crowds seemed to gravitate to tented venues this year, especially the recently expanded Montana Tourism Dance Pavilion.”

Challenging festival weather.

Everett credits the smooth operation of the event goes to the team of staff and volunteers that have pitched in across the past eight years.

“Thanks to the coordinated efforts of hundreds of volunteers, we were able to properly greet and entertain a large number of guests this past weekend, including friends and family from throughout the world,” said Everett.

Contributions to the festival by way of the ambassadors with buckets are still coming in, but have tallied $82,940 thus far. That figure may well climb as contributions after the festival take the total higher.

Images from 2015 Festival {by Anna Paige/Pen & Paige}

Festival planning for 2016 has already begun. Always the second weekend in July, the sixth annual Montana Folk Festival is set to happen in Butte July 8-10, 2016.

To help secure the foundation for future festivals, contributions are welcome and greatly appreciated and are tax-deductible. Send to: Mainstreet Uptown Butte, P.O. Box 696, Butte, MT 59703 or use PayPal to “Pony Up.”

Western Lupine Sweet-Pea Spires of the Big Horn Mountains

There’s no place as sacred to my family as the Big Horn Mountains. We were raised in these forests, playing among the aspens, making boats out of tree bark and sending our cargo down Clear Creek.

Where the North and South Fork of Clear Creek meet, my family has a cabin. Here the flowers bloom in a delicate balance of Queen Anne’s Lace among the sharp stabs of Arrowhead Daisies and the drooping bluebells. Lupine carpets can be found along the forest floors.

There’s a magic to catching wildflowers in bloom, and though there’s a rhythm to when they bloom, there’s no guarantee how long they’ll last into the heat of summer.

Perhaps the most captivating of the Big Horn blooms is the Lupinus perennis, or the Western Lupine. With it’s hairy leaflets and varying shades of blooms—some a rich purple while others cultivate a pinkish center, and yet others grow an almost blue tint—the Lupine is a charmer of the forest.

Montana’s Signature Music Festival Montana Folk Fest Hits its Stride

One of the largest free festivals in the west, the Montana Folk Festival is the successor to the National Folk Festival, which held residency in Butte from 2008 – 2010. When the National Folk Fest moved on, Butte organizers were “having too much fun” and decided to keep the event going, said festival manager George Everett.“We had acquired the infrastructure and had a lot of expertise as to how to put on a music festival, so it was an easy transition.”

Now in its fifth year as the Montana Folk Fest, the event is fast becoming the signature festival of Montana—a showcase of global music, dance, art, and ethnic cuisine. Various stages across uptown Butte host a continuous eclectic cycle of musicians, while food vendors bring an array of culinary flavors as diverse as the music.

Broadway Stage.

Stages are laid out across the city, stages. Each stage rotates through a worldly array of performances. Last year’s festival played out across six stages, including a participatory dance pavilion, a family stage with performances oriented toward children, and a stage dedicated to music of Montana.

The Original Stage, situated atop the city on the site of an old mine yard, is built into a defunct mining headframe, a reminder of Butte’s backstory as an underground copper mining center.

“We are really hitting our stride,” Everett said, who expects record turnouts for the 2015 festival.

When: July 10 – 12, 2015

Where: Butte, America

Who: Musicians from around the globe travel to the Montana Folk Festival. If last year is any indication, there’ll be killer blues, French folk, Canadian bluegrass, Peruvian dancers, Southern acoustic rock, Cajun influences and sounds of the bayou, full on Funk, Asian and Native American groups, as well as some pretty esoteric stuff. In addition to performances, musical showcases bring together different musicians to play together in a forum while discussing their take on a specific music style.

Peruvian Scissor Dancers.

Tickets: The event is free to all, though event organizers fundraise throughout the year. Event sponsors, longstanding donor commitments, as well as steady small donations, help fund annual operations. About 800 volunteers are sought each year to help set up and tear down the stages, and volunteers collect donations during the festival. “Admission is free, but we appreciate donations onsite,” said Everett.

The Dardanelles.

Where to stay: There are only 1,300 hotel rooms in Butte, and they book up well in advance of the festival. The city opens its parks for free camping on a first-come, first-served basis. Bathrooms are onsite, but no showers or other services are available. Campers can also seek out accommodations in the national forests around Butte, and a handful of RV and campgrounds are located in and around Butte. Many attendees stay in surrounding areas, including Bozeman, Helena, and Missoula, and commute in for the day.

More info: MontanaFolkFestival.com

The Silver Dollar.

Insider Tip: Book accommodations in the city early to ensure the full festival experience. The old mining town is rich with nationally recognized historic sites, from Chinatown to the well-preserved downtown buildings to the mining pit itself, and is a distinct backdrop for the multicultural Folk Festival. For thrifty campers, McGruff Park is located in the heart of the festival, and all you need is a tent to experience the action. Once the music winds down on the main stages, catch musicians after-hours at the legendary Silver Dollar bar or at jam sessions in the city campgrounds.

Photos from 2014 Montana Folk Fest, Butte, America